New anti-discrimination guidelines for USDA
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman pledged Friday to eradicate all discrimination in his department in its dealings with minority farmers and other customers.
Meeting with sub-Cabinet officers and top management staff, Glickman made public 92 recommendations by a department civil rights task force, including measures designed to make agency heads accountable.
Most of the recommendations are feasible, he said, setting a six-month deadline for their implementation.
Glickman appointed the task force in December following widespread complaints of what he described as actual and perceived cases of discrimination against blacks, other minorities and women.
There also are discrimination lawsuits pending in federal court and 875 discrimination claims backlogged at USDA.
Black members of the House Agriculture Committee welcomed the task force report, saying it exposed the need for institutional change within the department.
They urged Glickman to implement most of the recommendations within 90 days and said congressional hearings will be held on those recommendations requiring legislative action, beginning March 19.
Glickman also released a civil rights policy statement, which requires department employees and customers to be treated ``fairly and equitably and with dignity and respect.
``There are no exceptions. There are no excuses,″ it says.
And he announced a ``zero-tolerance″ policy for retaliation against employees or customers.
Glickman named Pearlie Reed, the task force chairman and associate chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as acting assistant secretary for administration with responsibility for implementing the task force recommendations.
Several of the recommendations would require congressional action, including what Glickman called the ``most dramatic change″ _ converting the 12,000 nonfederal county positions in the Farm Service Agency to federal employee status.
Employees holding these positions now are paid by the federal government but report to county farm organizations.
Glickman also said pending farm foreclosures will continue to be reviewed to ensure that discrimination or unfair treatment were not factors.
He released an inspector general’s report on farm loan programs that found ``staffing problems, obsolete procedures and little direction from management″ that resulted in a ``climate of disorder″ within the civil rights staffs of the Farm Service Agency and at USDA headquarters.
``The vast majority of our employees at headquarters and in the field are dedicated, hard-working public servants who are well-intentioned, conscientious and treat fellow employees and customers with dignity and respect,″ he told his administrators.
The task force report also cited a lack of department leadership in civil rights. To combat that, Glickman said Reed will have authority to review civil rights records of agency heads and sub-Cabinet officials and make the findings part of the performance review process.
He also said all employees will participate in annual civil rights training.